“We cannot deal with terrorists that are abroad unless we have allies and friends over there that help us hunt them down.”
“When nations believe the government cannot protect its borders, which is the reason for existence of a nation state, you begin to have people who are insecure and fearful, and politicians who play on that fear”.
– Admiral (Ret.) Joe Sestak
Joseph “Joe” Ambrose Sestak, Jr. (63) is the highest-ranking military official to serve in the United States Congress, attaining the rank of a three-star Admiral before retiring from the Navy in 2005. After the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, Sestak became the first director of the Navy Operations Group (Deep Blue) which sought to redefine strategic, operational and budgetary policies in the Global War on Terrorism.
Admiral Sestak, who is running for the United States Senate, recently spoke to the Budapest Beacon about the Syrian civil war, the European refugee crisis, and the Paris terror attacks.
The former Admiral says ISIS is an unintended consequence of “a tragic misadventure” — the 2003 invasion of Iraq. According to Sestak, who served as the Director of the Navy’s counter-terror office, ISIS evolved from an Al Quaida affiliate that a number of former Iraqi generals and other military officials joined after the dissolution of the Iraqi army in 2003, a decision reportedly taken by occupation authority head Paul Bremer without consulting either the Pentagon or the President.
“It’s an outgrowth of Iraq, which wasn’t a clear or present danger to us,” says Sestak.
He identifies terrorism as one of several “transnational” dangers that include climate change, which, according to the Pentagon, will be the greatest source of conflict in the future as populations seek resources that may be owned by others.
Screening of Syrian refugees overseas “very thorough”
Responding to Thursday’s decision by the United States House of Representatives to ban Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the United States until more stringent screening procedures are in place, the former Congressman says the current vetting of Syrian refugees oversees for possible admission to the United States is the subject of a separate classified program focussing on “women-headed households”.
“The vetting of this and the documentation and interviews is very well done,” says Sestak, who is not in favor of adding “bureaucratic tie-up” merely for the sake of delay. “Not one refugee steps foot in the United States until that vetting is done overseas.” He says it takes the Office of Homeland Security 18 to 24 months to screen refugees.
Visa waiver poses greater threat than refugees
In his opinion, terrorists with European passports pose a far greater threat to the United States than terrorists posing as refugees.
“Seven of the nine terrorists responsible for the Paris attacks were born in France or Belgium. They can enter the US without a visa.” Sestak says the visa waiver program affords terrorists a far simpler way to enter the country than by posing as refugees.
He calls recent calls from the United States not to take Muslim refugees “strange” and “stunning”.
“I had Muslims on my ship. They fought with me in a war. And I will stand with them any day and defend them. Because they defended America,” says Sestak, who assumed command of the USS George Washington carrier strike group in the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean in 2002.
“We cannot deal with terrorists that are abroad unless we have allies and friends over there that help us hunt them down.” He says the United States must accept its “fair share” of Syrian refugees. As for what constitutes a “fair share” of the four million Syrians in refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon (of which roughly one million have already made their way to Europe), Sestak says that should be up to the President of the United States,
US President Barack Obama has proposed admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016. Human Rights First and other NGOs have called for the United States to take as many as 100,000 refugees of the Syrian civil war.
Sestak, a former Director of Defense Policy on the National Security Council, dismisses as “nonsense” the notion that the United States deliberately engineered the Syrian refugee crisis in order to destabilize the Balkans and Middle Europe.
“This all began because people wanted what America represents — freedom. Freedom to own the rewards of their own hard work. Freedom to express themselves as they want. That’s what happened in our own democracy here. But it was self-initiated there in that country.”
Sestak says that while the people filling key positions in government come and go, “the ideals by which we operate have not changed”.
“I may have disagreed with our entry into Iraq. But to actually think that we would want our allies or our friends or the nation itself to be torn assunder, no.” Sestak attributes the outbreak of the Syrian civil war to the “brutal” response of the Syrian government to popular demands for democracy as part of the Arab Spring demonstrations of 2011.
He blames the EU’s inability to formulate a collective response to the refugee crisis on both a “failure of leadership” and lack of preparedness.
“When nations believe the government cannot protect its borders, which is the reason for existence of a nation state, you begin to have people who are insecure and fearful, and politicians who play on that fear,” warns Sestak.
The son of an immigrant from what is today Slovakia, Sestak points out that the United States admits tens of thousands of refugees every year and has done so for many decades.
“We’re unique as immigrants,” says the highest-ranking military officer to ever serve in Congress.
Joseph Ambrose Sestak, Jr. (63) served in the United States Navy for over thirty years, achieving the rank of a three-star admiral before retiring in 2005. In 2006 he was elected to the United States House of Representatives where he served two consecutive terms between 2007 and 2011. Narrowly defeated in his bid for the United States Senate in 2010, Sestak launched his 2016 senatorial campaign by walking 422 miles across the state of Pennsylvania at the end of 2014 at the age of 62.
A graduate of the United States Naval Academy and Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Sestak was named head of the Strategy and Concepts Branch in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations in 1993. The following year he was named Director for Defense Policy on the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton, a position he held until 1997.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, Sestak became the first director of the Navy Operations Group (Deep Blue), which sought to redefine strategic, operational and budgetary policies in the Global War on Terrorism.
Over the course of his Navy career he held a series of operational commands. In 1997 he was made commander of the Destroyer Squadron 14. In 2002 he was put in command of the USS George Washington carrier strike group during combat operations in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean in 2002.